Updated: Sep 6, 2019
I think that’s the question most model railroad hobbyists face when they first consider taking the plunge into building their dream layouts. But rather than delve into that multifaceted topic at this time, by way of introduction, I think the same question can apply to how Seth and I ended up acquiring Crystal River Products. In fact, how I ended up with a passion for railroading in the first place. After all, I did precede Seth. (Hint: I’m his father and a very proud one at that.)
My first recollection of a spark of interest for trains happened when I was just a little tyke, maybe four years old. Sometime around 1955 or ‘56, My mom and dad bundled my little sister and me aboard a northbound train from L.A.’s Union Station to visit dad’s relatives in northern California. To me, the ride was magical and Dad later told me that the train was pulled by a cab forward steam engine. (1) Whether that is true or not, and I like to think it was, it doesn’t matter, because after that ride the spell was cast and the spark burst into an eternal flame of love for all things railroads.
I remember on vacations when Dad would drive through the night to get us to the entrance gate at Yosemite National Park first thing in the morning. (2) During the drive, he would wake his sleeping boy with whispered urgency, “Randy! There’s a train!” I would bolt upright and look out the window of our 1960 blue Chevy station wagon to see in the pre-dawn light a freight train being pulled by a trio of first-generation and second-generation diesels. While it was not my first love - a passenger train - it still was magical.
My Dad’s Dad helped to keep the railroad fires burning. Grandpa was a second generation railroader employed as a yard clerk by the Union Pacific in the Los Angeles freight yard. On occasional weekends, he would take Dad and me to the yards. Enroute to his office, we would drive past the tracks that held old engines and cars, which, he explained, were often used for movies. Judging by the derelict nature of these pieces of railroad history, they were not used as such very often, but I didn’t care. The magic was there. Old tenders from scrapped steam engines and other rolling stock stood as sentimental sentinels lamenting the legacy of the long-dead past.
On one such trip, Grandpa took my Cub Scout Pack to the roundhouse where we were invited two at a time to climb into the cab of an F-unit. One of the employees in the cab, pointed to his unsuspecting colleagues below standing near the engine. He looked at me and gestured to pull the cord to activate the horn. There was a moment of silent tension in the cab; my conscience just wouldn’t let me do it. To the rescue came one of the other boys who eagerly grabbed the cord resulting in the colleagues’ anticipated animated response. What did I learn? As an eight-year-old, I was sensitive to others AND trains are powerful promoters of impromptu action.
The only memory I have of a layout for me as a boy was when I was in kindergarten. Dad had made a box for my mattress. What was unique about this box was that on the bottom he fastened a loop of HO track. The intent was that during the day, he could remove the mattress, and I could run a train. I don’t think that ever happened, but it was an innovative idea anyway. Suffice it to say that while I was developing a love affair for trains, I never got to indulge in it in my formative years.
Fast forward twenty-plus years with a family and a career. The long-dormant passion awoke. LGB, large-scale, garden railroading. I was smitten. Two hundred feet of track looping through the trees of our Cedar Park, TX backyard. The good news - I had a running railroad. The bad news - due to a move, it was only for a couple of months. This was my first, and for 30 years, last layout. Numerous relocations to Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wisconsin, and back to Utah prevented living the dream. However, throughout I dabbled in kit building, bashing, and the virtues of eBay as a vehicle for buying and selling model trains of various scales as I intermittently explored the hobby.
Experiences with 1:1 scale kept the embers warm as well. Rides on the Durango and Silverton, the Heber Creeper, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, the Hill Country Flyer, Amtrak from Washington, DC to Milwaukee, Denver to Salt Lake City, Northern California to Burbank, and Salt Lake City to Denver. A visit to Promontory. A surreptitious tour with an employee of the UP yard in Provo. Trips to Colorado with Seth and one of his boys to explore the RGS. A trip with Seth and one of our friends to explore the South Park and especially the Alpine Tunnel. Camping near Tennessee Pass, listening to Rio Grande diesels growl and claw their way up the steep grade to the summit. Riding a Goose out of Durango. Oh, the thrill!
As I bounced from G to HOn3 to On3 and back to G/Fn3, I built some structures along the way, realizing that they play just as important a role in model railroading as casts and ensembles do in a play. Otherwise, model railroading is just trains running in loops without purpose or context.
Finally, as an empty nester, I settled on a simple outdoor layout for Fn3 and one inside for On3. I had a purpose and a need to build some structures. And this is where Crystal River Products comes in. A shared passion with Seth for model railroading. His family’s close proximity to my indulgent wife and me. (Now, if I can just get her to stop referring to scale model railroading as “playing with choo-choo trains.” Sigh. No respect.) A retiring CRP brand. Timing. And a gracious Tom Fitzgerald. Voila. Seth and I are now proud partners in this amazing venture not only indulging our passion, but connecting with amazing people, like you, who share that passion for creating railroad history in miniature and sharing with others.
It’s all about people. Over my life in business, church, and theater, it’s been about people. And the people I have met in this amazing hobby I have found to be unselfish and willing to share ideas and their heartfelt and contagious enthusiasm for the hobby. We hobbyists are in reality a family.
This is where the “me” part of the story becomes the “we” part of our story. And that is a story yet to be written.
More to come. Until next time, where was I?
(1) Did SP actually use cab forwards for passenger service? Check out this link.
(2) In those days, you had to arrive at the park first thing to find a camping site.